Moving with Children – Continued

Since we are on the subject, I just read a journal article
on “Helping Children to Cope with Relocation:” Although it is addressed to educators, the first part contains a lot of interesting
findings on the impact of moving on children, while many of the tips in the
second part apply to parents as well. Definitely worth reading. I’m including some
excerpts that I think are food for thought and discussion.

On how moving does not only affect the mover but
also the “left-behinds:”

One finding of relocation research that is generally overlooked is that all children are affected by a move, particularly the ones who are left behind when a friend moves away (Field, 1984). This conclusion makes sense when we consider that young children fear separation and abandonment above all else and that teenagers’ stated primary reason for attending school is to see their friends (Goodland, 1984; Wolman, 1978). Even adults who are sensitive to children’s needs sometimes overlook the fact that both the best friend who leaves and the best friend who remains behind have to start all over again. In fact, research suggests that, among preschoolers, the children who are left behind may be more agitated for a longer period of time (Field, 1984).

On how children perceive a move as a loss of their natural

Children experience moving as loss of their natural habitat (Gabarino, 1987). Even if the relocation does not involve great distance, it can mean losing a network of people who know, respect and trust the child. Vance Packard (1983) once said that we have to re-establish our credentials every time we move. The familiar ways of interacting with close friends seldom work well with new acquaintances. Strangers may view directness as arrogance, silliness as weirdness, teasing as a threat. Re-establishing credentials is a time-consuming and often frustrating process. Therefore, experts estimate that a child needs at least a year to make an overall adjustment to relocation (Current Health, 1985).
Finally, on the 5 stages of children’s reaction to

Educators must understand that a child’s reaction to the stress of relocation is frequently delayed. Children tend to progress through five stages: 1) contact–feeling excited about exploring the new setting; 2) disintegration–contrasting the old and new environments and feeling disoriented, isolated or depressed; 3) reintegration–rejecting the new environment and feeling anxious, angry, suspicious or hostile; 4) autonomy–regaining balance and feeling less like an outsider as confidence returns; and 5) independence–accepting and appreciating differences between the environments as the adjustment is made (Adler, 1975; Walling, 1990).

For something lighter, here are two lists of “to-dos”
– one addressed to kids and one to adults. Very hands-on and mostly known, but
still good to have it all in one place.

What Kids Who Are Moving Should Do:

Preparing Your Child For a Move:

Looking forward to discussing more!

Sharing the news

Now that we had made the decision to move, we wanted
to share it with our family and friends –but first, we wanted to tell the children.
This is a big change in their stable little lives and we believe that they need
to be part of it from the very beginning. They are going to need time to
process the news and how they feel about the move and what it means for them. Also,
on a practical matter, we needed to move fast with respect to
finding schools for them in Zurich and for that, they need to be “in the loop.”
 I was nervous about how they would react. I worried
about our eldest, who just went through a relatively challenging adjustment this
fall, when he started Gymnasium (the equivalent of Middle School). Although
Gymnasium is a big change for most kids – compared to primary school – it was
even more challenging for him, since he is significantly younger than the others.
It took him some time to feel comfortable in his new “situation.” Now we are
asking him to do it all over again. Also, only a couple of days before, he had he
said goodbye to his best friend, who was moving away from Vienna with his
family – another reason why our timing was not great. I wish we could have
waited with the news, but we did not have that luxury.

Our daughter is younger and more easygoing in
general. She’s extremely popular in her class and has no trouble making
friends. However, even for her it will be hard to leave all her friends and start
over. I’m not even mentioning our youngest son, as he is the only one who will
be cool about this move and won’t even remember his first year-and-half in Vienna.

On a school-free day, we sat down with the children in
their room and told them enthusiastically: “We have news! Daddy just got a new
job and this job is in Zurich, so we have to move there.” I was looking at them
while we were talking, trying to detect the first signs – facial expressions,
body language – that would indicate how they felt about this. Our oldest son
bent his head and looked away. He was doing this thing where he squeezes his
lips together to stop himself from bursting into tears. I tried to put myself
in his position and imagine how I would feel if someone announced to me a (relatively)
life-changing decision over which I had no control. Not great.

Our girl had a different reaction – she was almost
excited about the move: “Can we find a house with a garden?,” “Can we find a
place to live next to our friends? (my best childhood friend lives in Zurich
with his family),” “Can we…?” Although I know this initial reaction may change
soon, I have a feeling that with her extrovertness, energy and natural charm, she
will be fine. She is the politician in our

Still, this is a big thing for both of them. Vienna
is the only place they have called home. As sad and guilty as I feel for
uprooting them, taking them away from their familiar environment and friends, in
a way I am also grateful that they can embark on this adventure; that they get
a taste of living in a different environment and another culture; that they
don’t become “culturally lazy.” It will be an eye-opener for them to learn to
cope with different people, attitudes and mentalities.

It was an absolute priority for us to involve the
children (at least the older ones) in all phases of the move. They are old
enough to understand why we are doing this and to be part of the decision-making, in
the matters that concern them. The more involved they are in the process of the
move, the more likely they are to “own” it and the higher the chances that adjustment
will be smoother. That said, there is a delicate balance to be struck between keeping
them informed and involved in major choices and making sure it is clear to them
that, ultimately, we as parents are the ones making the final decisions. There
is a lot of potential for tension and conflict if those terms are not well-defined.

What is most important right now is to make sure that
this move “works” for our children. Are there things I can do now to make sure
that happens? And how important is it to involve children in the process of an
international move? I look forward to your comments.

Have a productive week!

Emergency Preparedness

As I was waiting for an excruciating 25 minutes this
morning for the locksmith to come and open my apartment door – which my
one-year-old son had swiftly closed behind me within a split second of me
stepping out (with my keys on the lock inside) – and going through all sorts of
horror scenarios of potential injuries a toddler can inflict on himself when home
alone, a question went through my mind: “What if this had happened only days
after we had moved to a new country?” Here, I know exactly what to do and who
to call; within seconds somebody was on his way. I have neighbors who can lend
me their phone. I have friends I can ask for help in emergencies. But when you have
just moved to a new place, often you have none of that – you don’t know people
and you don’t have a support network. So what do you do?

I believe in the Scout Motto: Be Prepared.

So here’s a more practical question for the weekend:

What are the first things you do, either before or
right after you move to a new location, to be prepared for emergencies, big or
small, silly (like mine today) or serious?

Because I know this will happen to me again J. Have a great weekend!

Home is where the heart is – or is it?

This was not what I was planning to write about today,
but as I was driving the kids to school this morning, I heard on the radio yet
another round of bad news on Greece.

My heart sank.

I felt deeply sad about what is happening to the
country where I grew up. The intensity of my reaction got me thinking about why moving
internationally can be so hard on some of us and less so on others. I think that
part of the answer may lie in the emotional bonds that we build with certain places
and how that influences – consciously or subconsciously – our mindset when we
move to a new one.

I have not lived in Greece for the past 17 years.
I still love going back there and do so with every chance I get. I love the feeling
of being with family, the sense of belonging, the (almost) permanent sunshine;
the proximity to the sea. I feel more “myself” there than anywhere else. Even if I am not
sure I would be able to live in Greece permanently after having been away for
so long, almost daily I find myself missing different aspects of life there. Still.
I am wondering if that was part of the reason why it took me so long to adjust
to life in Austria and whether the transition would have been smoother had managed
to get myself to let go. Or maybe this is a classic case of over-romanticizing
the life I don’t have to live.

Now that I am about to make my next move, would it
help to concentrate on the things I miss about Greece that I can actually find
in Switzerland, rather than on the ones that I cannot? What if, rather than dwelling
on no-win subjects such as the climate or how warm or cool people are, I focused
instead on how wonderful it makes me feel to live close to the water? (Lake
Zurich is absolutely gorgeous, not to mention has waterski facilities!)

Does the strength of our attachment to certain
places undermine our ability (or willingness) to adjust and if that’s the case,
is there a way around that? Many of you may have done this better than I have. I’d
love to hear how.

How it all began

When we go through a move, we often get so caught up
in the process, both practical and emotional, that we don’t necessarily pay
attention to the initial decision. I believe that how we make the decision to
move and why has a big impact, not only on how smooth the process of the move is,
but also on how successful the transition turns out to be. Questions such as whose
decision it was to move, what were the criteria, whether there was explicit
agreement and what compromises were made are really critical here. To give you
an example, if a couple is moving, but not both partners are explicitly on
board from the beginning, the move is likely to be challenging. An
international move is tough enough in its own right, but it becomes impossibly
difficult when potential conflict and disagreements are lurking at every stage
of the process.

Our move is a done deal by now – the decision has
been made and it was a joint decision. The criteria were clear and we both
committed to make it work. But the day my husband received his new job contract
and I realized that I was about to become a foreigner again, it still came as a
shock. It’s not that we never contemplated a move; we’d been having – mostly
academic – conversations for years now, but somehow the “right” place never
came up.

Until last month. It all happened very fast and
suddenly (well, at least that’s how I saw it) we needed to make a decision. I
guess I’d been postponing thinking about what a move would mean for all of us
until we were only days away from having to give an answer. And then the
floodgates opened and all these thoughts and emotions started rushing in – I
wasn’t sure what I felt. As the
reality slowly sinks in, I’m still not sure.

Part of me is excited about the move. Change is
energizing – a new country, a new environment, a new home, new people. When we
moved to Europe from the United States in 2001, we saw it as a temporary move.
After all, we had not been used to spending longer than three years at any of
our previous locations. Ten-and-half years later, this is the only place – since
we met – where we’ve lived for that long. I have had mixed feelings about moving
to Vienna and for the first nine (yes, nine) years of my life here, I refused
to settle and feel at home. I liked to complain that the climate was too cold
and the people too cool – both hard to digest for a temperamental Greek. One would
think that I’d be happy now that I had the perfect opportunity to escape all

Except that in my tenth year I had some sort of epiphany;
Vienna might not be that bad after all. I’m not sure what caused it. It could
have been the fact that my children were born here and consider Vienna their home;
or the fact that I made so many wonderful friends here – some of them as close
as family; or maybe, after constantly thinking about wanting to live somewhere
else, I considered the alternatives and realized that there are very few other
places where the quality of life is so high; or the place just “grew on me” with
time (it will be close to eleven years, after all). Even though I would never
call Vienna home, it did offer me a good life.

So there is this other part of me that is incredibly
sad to leave.  I am devastated at the
thought of leaving behind my friends. These people – and my family –, they are
my home. It’s like I would be leaving behind part of myself. Also, I realize
that my children will benefit from the new experiences but I am worried about
putting them through so many changes and adjustment challenges. Last but not
least, the prospect of building a new life from scratch is intimidating. It has
been so long since my last move that I have forgotten how it goes. Not to
mention that the last time I moved, I didn’t have children. This is so much
more complicated.

I would love to hear about your experiences with moving
decisions. How did you make the decision and how did you feel about it? How did
it change your life?

Happy Valentine’s Day, by the way J